My mother is fond of telling the story of her first meeting with my dad's Armenian relatives. "I went to Hudson's and bought a new outfit and new shoes," she remembers. Since my mother has always been style conscious, I imagine her in her fashionable clothes, her stocking seams perfectly straight, her dark hair neatly brushed with a glow in her blue eyes and fair Scotch/Irish complexion.
"Your Dad's mother was there, of course, and all these little old Armenian ladies," my mother continues. "Every one of them had on a black skirt, a black blouse, and thick black stockings. They sat around jabbering away and I couldn't understand a word. But I could tell they were talking about me, and that it probably wasn't good!"
She switches off the remote control on the television, where we've been watching a story on Entertainment Tonight announcing that Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce from her husband, just 72 days after their lavish multi-million dollar wedding.
"I wonder what those old Armenian ladies would say about her?" my mother asks.
I don't have to wonder. I don't speak Armenian, but I know what they'd say. "Shame on you" sounds the same in every language.
I've never watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians, mostly because I don't find reality shows that exploit family dysfunction very entertaining. But also because I'm Armenian myself, and I've always been a little ashamed of the way this family represents my nationality. It's not that they make much of their ethnic background on the show, for which I guess I'm thankful. But their very name proclaims their heritage - the "ian" suffix (which means "son of...") is a dead giveaway.
Kim's recent huge wedding, with her three original designer gowns and her two-million dollar engagement ring is reported to have cost the family over $6 million dollars, but also to have earned them $8 million dollars in endorsements, rights, and royalties. I don't know how they divide the take on a wedding ceremony, and I don't care. I just know that's enough money overall to provide food and shelter to a lot of homeless people in this country. Or to send a bunch of teenagers to college. Or provide health care for a lot of sick babies.
And the fact that she threw the whole thing down the toilet after 72 days is enough to make me lose my religion.
Armenia is not a rich country. It's a nation that's been plagued with disaster practically since time began. My own grandfather fled the country during the Turkish genocide in the early 1900's, and he never saw his family again. Like the majority of Armenian people in the United States my ancestors came from a small village and lived off the work of their hands. The life they were able to build here in America - even a very solidly middle class life - seemed like great wealth to them.
Obviously the Kardashian family realized the American dream in a way most Armenian families did not. The only thing I know about their background (and this fact says a lot) is that their father, Robert, was part of O.J. Simpson's defense team. But however they obtained it, I believe they have some responsibility to use their wealth and "fame" to represent their nationality in a positive light, not to become a symbol of outrageous behavior, wretched excess, and selfish gain.
Kim Kardashian is an extraordinarily beautiful young woman with an unusual fineness of feature. I admit to an occasional flash of envy when I see photos of her with her exquisite dark eyes and glossy straight hair. Not fair, I think, for one woman to be so lovely.
But beauty is as beauty does, my Grandmother often told me. Kim Kardashian's behavior is neither beautiful nor justifiable.
And it's certainly not representative of the morality or culture of the Armenian people.